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14 Dec, 2015

Saudi Arabia Halal Cosmetics Market to Grow at 15% P.A. until 2020

Compiled by Imtiaz Muqbil & Sana Shamsi

A compilation of progressive, positive, inspiring and motivating events and developments in the world of Islam for the week ending 14 December 2015 (03 Rabee’ al-Awwal 1437). Pls click on any of the headlines below to go to the story.




It’s the year-end school holidays and festive season. A time to take a break, celebrate, chill out, dine and SHOP! Yes, shop, and now say 1MYES for 1Malaysia Year End Sale. It’s the biggest sale bonanza of the year with BIG bargains, BIG offers and BIG rewards at shopping outlets nationwide for nearly two months. That’s not all. Expect special deals and price cuts during back-to-school sales, which will bring huge relief to moms and dads. Bring the whole family and enjoy a fun day of outing. There are also special rewards for tourists, such as tourist privilege cards, tax-free shopping, gift redemptions with purchases and GST refund at exit points. A long line-up of events and activities awaits everyone. It will be a fun time for all. Contests, promotions, prize galore, songs and dances, art and crafts, Christmas shopping, meet and greet Santa, New Year’s Eve party and much more will build up the momentum before curtains call to say goodbye to 2015, and hello 2016!

Don’t miss out on the fun. In fact 1MYES extends right into the New Year. Check out 1MYES special offers, events and happenings throughout the country.

For a full listing of all the great shopping opportunities, pls click on this link


The Islamic Tourism Centre in Malaysia has launched a vibrant new website presenting Malaysia as a prime destination for Islamic tourism and a global halal hub. The website offers a wealth of information on Mosque trails, Islamic Museums, Ramadan & Eid-ul Fitr, Muslim-Friendly Tour Highlights, as well as a Muslim Visitor’s Guide, Halal Directory and Souvenirs Directory. Located strategically at the heart of Southeast Asia, Malaysia is well-known for its natural beauty and diverse cultural landscape. At its social core are three of Asia’s oldest civilisations – Malay, Chinese and Indian – as well as the ethnic communities of Sabah and Sarawak, resulting in a unique and inspiring blend of cultures. With an abundance of halal food, prayer facilities and Islamic attractions, Malaysia perfectly caters to the needs of Muslim travellers. The ITC plays a pivotal role in bringing Malaysia to the forefront of Islamic tourism. It works with industry players to build their capacity in Islamic tourism, thus ensuring that the needs of Muslim visitors are better served. ITC has also taken several initiatives in standardising industry’s best practices through research, seminars, workshops and industry outreach programmes. Now is the perfect time to experience the country’s multitude of Muslim-friendly tourism products – Islamic architectural heritage, halal gastronomic delights, vibrant Islamic festivals and world-class Islamic events – all guaranteed to give visitors an incredible time.

Click here to see the fabulous new website

For more information about what makes Malaysia one of the most popular destinations in the Islamic world, as well as on planning your next holiday or MICE event in Malaysia, please click: http://www.tourism.gov.my/ or http://www.tourismmalaysia.gov.my

facebook: http://www.facebook.com/friendofmalaysia

twitter: http://twitter.com/tourismmalaysia

Blog: http://blog.tourism.gov.my


Watch Islamic Travel Newswire Executive Editor Imtiaz Muqbil’s landmark TEDx lecture on “Peace through Tourism” on YouTube — the first travel industry journalist in Bangkok invited to speak at this prestigious forum. CLICK HERE.




Malaysia Business Events Week Conference Draws Bigger Crowd This Year

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 11 (Bernama) — The growing awareness of opportunities offered by the business events industry in Malaysia has led to a significant participation in the recently held Malaysia Business Events Week (MBEW). The conference which is in its second year was an initiative by Malaysia Convention and Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB), an agency under the Ministry of Tourism and Culture Malaysia.

Held at the Shangri-La Hotel, MBEW drew an attendance of more than 200 participants which consists of professional conference organisers, destination management companies, exhibition organisers, venue owners, event management companies and hotels, as well as government ministries, national associations, convention bureau and regional tourism offices as well as suppliers of products and services relevant to the industry.

Through MBEW, the industry players and its respective stakeholders are able to exchange ideas, explore possible business opportunities, as well as debating current issues that impact its future growth and sustainability.

“In our inaugural event last year, we explored general MICE topics and engaged a handful of international speakers. This year, we decided to develop a focused theme that would encourage the Malaysian MICE players to collaborate in designing the future course of the industry. Collectively we can prepare a roadmap to build a sustainable industry that is resilient to an ever changing and at times unpredictable global environment. In addition, through the provision of education, networking, exchange of ideas and debate of issues in the three-day event, we hope that the Malaysian business events industry are better equipped to take ownership of its future”, said Datuk Zulkefli Haji Sharif, Chief Executive Officer of MyCEB.

This year, MBEW participants were able to tap the brains of 20 of local and international renowned speakers through plenary sessions, break-out sessions on leadership, sales and marketing and operations, and cluster sessions categorised by the various MICE segments, namely convention, exhibition and incentive.

“A new feature of MBEW is a by-invite forum for government and industry leaders, which will explore how the public and private sectors can work closely to enhance Malaysia’s status as a preferred MICE destination in Asia”, said Noor Nazatul Janah Binti Mahmood, PR & Communications Manager of Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB).

Key sessions include Designing a Sustainable Future by MCI Global’s Guy Bigwood and Roger Simmons; Unlocking The Future Through Creativity by L&R Contract Business Services’ Ruth Lillian; and What the Future Holds – Towards 2020 by Dato’ Seri Idris Jala, Chief Executive Officer of Performance Management and Delivery Unit Malaysia (PEMANDU).

“The topics are carefully crafted to ensure all MICE segments are covered and are applicable for all levels of the business events (profession), from junior right up to the senior team”, added Nazatul Janah.

Established in 2009, MyCEB, a non-profit organisation seeks to further strengthen Malaysia’s global appeal and position as the leading destination for international meetings, incentives, conventions, trade exhibitions and other major events.

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Petronas Drives Corporate Integrity Culture Through Dialogue

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 12 (Bernama) — In conjunction with the International Anti-Corruption Day, PETRONAS organised a roundtable dialogue to discuss methods of embedding integrity into corporate culture in Kuala Lumpur on 9 December 2015.

The session, hosted by the office of PETRONAS’ Chief Integrity Officer (CIO), saw the consolidation of ideas and identification of challenges related to the promotion of values that reflect integrity, specifically in the oil & gas industry.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, PETRONAS’ CIO, Datuk Samsiah Abu Bakar said that in line with the government’s initiative to uphold integrity, PETRONAS is committed to continue encouraging vendors and partners to comply with the company’s standards and requirements to ensure the highest level of integrity is observed and practiced.

“This dialogue also provides an avenue for PETRONAS to share the company’s corporate best practices in ensuring good governance, as well as to obtain new approaches that would help us make further improvements,” said Datuk Samsiah.

Among the topics discussed were how to address corruption issues; managing corruption risks; preventing corruption through third party due diligence; and corruption prevention through education.

Moderated by the Secretary-General of TI-Malaysia, Dr. Muhammad Mohan; PETRONAS together with the Consultant of the Advisory and Consultancy Division of Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), Mr. Teh Chau Chin also discussed key concerns affecting integrity and transparency of business operations in the private sectors with the participants.

In addition, Dr. Muhammad Mohan shared a forthcoming anti-bribery management system that is targeted to be applied in Malaysia by September 2016. The standard, known as the ISO 37001, is currently being developed by ISO/PC 278 with participants from 30 countries where TI-Malaysia is a representative in the main committee. Among the countries involved are the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Singapore and more.

“PETRONAS hopes that the session will promote a more collective action among PETRONAS’ contractors and business partners as well as foster ethical business transactions,” said Datuk Samsiah.

PETRONAS already has in place a Corporate Integrity Agenda, which covers governance programmes like the Vendor Integrity Programmes (PVIP), Whistleblowing Policy and No Gift Policy, to continuously ensure integrity is upheld across its business operations.

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AirAsia Shares Industry Insights at Inaugural World Bank Group Tourism Forum 2015

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 12 (Bernama) — AirAsia became the only airline to be represented at the World Bank Group Tourism Forum 2015, themed ‘Driving Development Through Tourism’, which took place in Washington DC from the 8-9 December 2015.

The forum was a gathering of global thought leaders and proven achievers to identify new ways to channel growth while addressing the challenges and opportunities of developing the tourism sector in emerging economies.

AirAsia’s presence at the World Bank Group Tourism Forum 2015 solidified the airline as a thought leader in the airline industry, and enabled AirAsia to influence the travel and tourism industry across the globe.

Aireen Omar was part of the first plenary session moderated by Maggie Lake, CNN Anchor & Correspondent to discuss the topic of ‘Tourism for Development’. Other panelists during the plenary session were Sandra Howard, Vice-Minister for Tourism of Colombia; and Christopher J. Nasetta, President & Chief Executive Officer of Hilton Worldwide.

AirAsia’s regional connectivity was used as an example of how connecting a region can contribute to development including providing affordable travel to the people, growing small and medium enterprises as well as to spur economic growth.

Among the points highlighted by Aireen Omar include the importance of changing mindsets and embracing a regional approach to tourism development beyond national borders; as well as the need for governments to work together to create harmonization and create faster growth for tourism players throughout the region.

She also emphasized on the importance for the Asean region to have the ASEAN Open Skies, ASEAN Single Aviation Market and ASEAN Economic Community to improve the region’s travel and tourism industry.

Apart from that, she also urged the World Bank to create more awareness of the role of tourism in alleviating poverty and speeding up economic growth, promote regionalization and provide funds for programs that support tourism and aviation.

The inaugural World Bank Group Tourism Forum was attended by Dr. Jim Yong Kim, the World Bank Group President, as well as tourism ministers and other top ministry officials from across the globe, along with top private tourism industry players.

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ACI Airport Exchange kicks off in Istanbul, hosted by iGA

December 10, 2015 – Istanbul- İGA Havalimanı İşletmesi A.Ş – the company building the world’s biggest new airport north of Istanbul is hosting the 10th ACI Airport Exchange at the prestigious new Istanbul Congress Center in the heart of downtown Istanbul from December 8 – 10, 2015. The event, which combines an extensive airport services & equipment exhibition with seven specialist conferences addressing all aspects of airport management & operations is staged jointly by two regions of Airports Council International, ACI EUROPE and ACI Asia-Pacific.

As leading companies from around the world continue to compete to become involved with the largest new airport ever built, the exhibition has attracted well over 100 exhibitors, while up to 1,800 delegates and visitors have already registered to attend. As part of the conference offering, a dedicated ‘Istanbul New Airport Development’ Conference focuses on the €10.2 billion new airport.

Nihat Özdemir, Board Member, İGA Havalimanı İşletmesi A.Ş. and Chairman of Limak Holdings said “At İGA, we feel honored to host such a significant event that gathers industrial representatives from various countries across the world. Airport Exchange 2015 is a significant opportunity for us to draw attention to Turkish aviation industry’s rapid growth over the past 15 years alongside our country’s position in the global aviation industry, as the event takes place in Istanbul. A natural “hub” in geographical terms – with Istanbul New Airport, we aim to contribute to the development of Turkish aviation industry and let Istanbul become a bright star for the global aviation industry.”

In her Opening Address, Patti Chau, Regional Director of ACI Asia-Pacific congratulated İGA Havalimanı İşletmesi A.Ş, for the development of the new mega-hub airport project in Istanbul. She said “Many airports in the world also share this vision to build for future growth. Audacious developments are seen in Asia-Pacific, notably in China and United Arabs Emirates.”

“Maintaining a network of safe, secured, efficient and environmentally responsible airports is our core focus. Aviation is a team effort and all stakeholders are responsible for doing their part. Airport Exchange is the perfect occasion where we will look into all areas of airport operations and the theme of this year, Future-Proofing Your Airport: Audacious Development, New Technologies and Competitive Strategies, is timely and allows us to re-examine our strategy and possibly, develop a completely new approach to future-proof your airport.” She concluded.

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Number of passing flights thru Iran’s airspace exceeds 1,000 per day

Tehran, Dec 7, IRNA – A senior lawmaker announced that the number of foreign flights passing through the Iranian sky has exceeded 30,000 per month.

‘The passing daily flights through Iran was between 150 to 200 flights in the recent past, but they have surpassed 1,000 at the moment,’ member of Majlis (Iranian parliament) Development Commission Alireza Khosravi said on Monday.

In August, Iran announced its preparedness to open its airspace to the passing flights after Ukraine closed its airspace following the Malaysian plane’s crash.

Deputy Head of Flight Standards of Iran Civil Aviation Organization Hamid Habibi voiced the country’s readiness to admit some flights passing through the Iranian airspace.

Following the Malaysian plane’s crash in Ukraine and closing the country’s airspace, he declared Iran’s readiness to admit passing flights which intend to change their route and use Iran’s aerial space.

A Malaysia Airlines’ Boeing-777 with over 290 people on board crashed in Ukraine, close to the border with Russia, on July 17.

The shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines passenger plane occurred in rebel-controlled Eastern Ukraine by unknown persons.

In mid-July, Australian airline, the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services (QANTAS), announced that it has changed its flight path from Iraq to Iran.

QANTAS declared that it has stopped its flights using Iraqi airspace in the wake of the MH17 disaster in Ukraine to avoid using the skies over conflict regions, adding that it preferred Iran’s airspace for its regular flights.

A QANTAS spokesman said the airline has closely monitored flight paths over conflict zones since Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine two weeks ago.

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Iran improves living conditions for people with disability

Tehran, Dec 8, IRNA – A nationwide census conducted four years ago showed that about 1.05 million people suffered from some form of disability in Iran. Four years on, this figure has, in all likelihood, increased.

Iran’s Social Welfare Organization (SWO) recently announced that between 1.5 and 2 percent of the population of disabled people require prompt assistance.

The International Day of Persons With Disability, which is observed on Dec. 3 each year, was marked this year with the theme: ‘Access and empowerment for people of all abilities’.

Iran, however, has extended its observance of the international day to a week. Nationwide programs have been chalked out to improve the living conditions of the disabled and provide them with equal opportunities.

SWO officials have said that under the program, the disabled will be provided with 16,000 job opportunities and families who have more than one disabled member will receive houses.

To learn more about the living conditions of people with disabilities, the English-language paper Iran Daily conducted an interview with Hossein Nahvinejad, the deputy head of SWO.

Excerpts follow:

IRAN DAILY: How successful has Iran been in empowering and providing the disabled with equal opportunities?

NAHVINEJAD: Based on global statistics, 15 percent of the world’s total population suffers from a form of physical or mental disability.

Iran’s Health Ministry has set priorities for offering better services to the disabled. The priorities are:

1- Providing the disabled with equal access to all services that a healthy person benefits;

2- Providing disabled persons with educational, cultural and health packages with the aim of removing bureaucratic hurdles they may encounter;

3- Increasing their social participation and helping them integrate into the society;

Despite the lack of fund and skilled workforce, Iran has always been hailed by leading international officials for its efforts to improve the living conditions of the disabled.

The private sector is the main care-provider for people with disabilities in Iran and has achieved remarkable success in this respect.

However, Iran still lags behind developed nations in terms of meeting the requirements of the disabled and providing them equal services and opportunities.

When it comes to improving the living conditions of the disabled, several organizations must become involved and this creates considerable bureaucracy in Iran.

The other problem is that most urban spaces are not accessible for the disabled in Iran. In the best case scenario, only 30 percent of the streets have been modified for use by such people, which is insignificant.

Despite all shortcomings, Iran could join the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which obliges the member states to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities and remove the barriers in their way.

Has Iran signed any agreements with other countries to improve the status of disabled citizens?

Iran’s major goal is to empower people with disability so that they can acquire job skills and earn a living. Iran earmarks banking facilities for the disabled who want to establish their business and have an income. To achieve the goal, Iran has signed a deal with a Swedish delegation. The Swedish party is committed to training individuals, who can later train disabled people and provide them job skills.

Iran has also signed agreements with two German delegations on training disabled children.

What steps have been taken to reduce the number of people with mental and physical disabilities?

Common causes of disabilities include certain diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease that usually affect middle- aged people, road accidents, incidents, genetic, metabolic or post-natal disorders.

We successfully reduced the rate of children born with disabilities by taking preventive programs. For instance, the number of children born with thalassemia has declined in view of pre-marriage consultations.

Would-be-mums and their infants undergo metabolic testing before, after and during pregnancy to prevent birth defects.

About 23,000 children are born with disabilities in Iran, which is blamed on metabolic, genetic or poor post- and pre-natal healthcare.

Many of such births can be prevented through regular metabolic tests. However, since such tests are very costly, many families are likely to avoid them. Hence, there is a need for broader insurance coverage to meet the related costs.

How much aid, in the form of cash and kind, has been collected through public donations?

About $14 million were donated to the organization in the year to March 2015. In addition to that, goods worth around $10 million were donated during the same period.

How much will the government allocate to the disabled in the year to March 2016?

The government has pledged about $4 million for assistance equipment.

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LEAD STORY: Saudi Arabia Halal Cosmetics Market To Grow at 15% P.A. until 2020

November 30, 2015, DUBLIN–(BUSINESS WIRE)– Research and Markets has announced the addition of the “Saudi Arabia Halal Cosmetics Market Forecast and Opportunities, 2020” report to their offering.

The halal cosmetics market in Saudi Arabia is projected to grow at a CAGR of over 15% during 2015 – 2020, due to growing accessibility of these products, rising consumer awareness regarding the benefits of using halal cosmetics, coupled with increasing willingness amongst consumers to pay more for high quality halal cosmetics.

Additionally, religious preference for halal products in Saudi Arabia, which is predominantly a Muslim populated country, is another factor driving demand for halal cosmetics in the country. In 2014, fragrances and skincare products accounted for a majority share in the country’s halal cosmetics market.

Few of the major players operating in Saudi Arabia halal cosmetics market include Inika, One Pure, LLC, FX Cosmetics, Clara International Beauty Group and Samina Pure Minerals Makeup Ltd., among others.

Halal cosmetics are skin and body care products which are free from materials forbidden by the Islamic Law. Therefore, blood from any animal, pork and pork products as well as alcoholic constituents are not incorporated in manufacturing of these cosmetics. With increasing availability of halal cosmetics, Islamic population in Saudi Arabia is gradually shifting to cosmetic products free from materials prohibited under the Islamic Law.

In addition, growing health concerns due to harmful effects of ingredients used in manufacturing cosmetics is increasing demand for halal cosmetics, not only among Muslims but also non-Muslim population in the country.

Moreover, increasing preference for halal cosmetics is leading to a change in business strategy of the local as well as international companies operating in the market. Companies are focusing on accommodating the growing preference for halal cosmetics products in the country.

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Three best Iran tourism cities to be announced in Norouz

Tehran, Dec 6, IRNA – Head of Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization Masoud Soltanifar said three Iranian cities with the best innovative in offering services to the tourists will be announced during Norouz, which marks the beginning of the Iranian new year.

Addressing a meeting of central headquarters for coordinating travel services, he said that the criteria for selecting the best cities in the field will be announced soon.

Referring to the private sector’s involvement in maintaining historical monuments, he added that based on a plan seriously pursued since two years ago, historical caravansaries, bathrooms and houses with a potential for turning into residential sites will be ceded to the private sector’s investors.

Some 30 monuments were ceded to the private sector, he said, noting that call-up for ceding other 60 historical sites has been issued and the operations to cede the sites would hopefully completed by the end of the current Iranian year (to end on March 20).

Ceding the monuments to private sector will prevent destruction of the sites and help generate jobs, Soltanifar said.

‘We believe that the country’s tourism will have bright future because all officials have reached the conclusion that using all resources and capacities of the green and quick-return industry will contribute to the country’s development,’ he said.

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Indonesia’s Pluralism, Social Unity, Cultural-Ecological Diversity Displayed in the Vatican Museum

Thursday, 10 December 2015 – Minister of Tourism of the Republic Indonesia, Arief Yahya recently paid an official visit to the Vatican to discuss the implementation in the cooperation for the establishment of a special Indonesia display room in the Vatican Museum.

In the meeting with the President of the Vatican, Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, Indonesian Minister Arief affirmed his high hopes in the project, while, Cardinal Bertello expressed his appreciation of Indonesia’s participation to establish a permanent display room in the Vatican Museum. The Cardinal was confident that the special display room will introduce to visitors to the Museum, the Indonesian nation as an inclusive and plural society in South East Asia that retains harmony among its people of different traditions, cultures and religions, and who continue to live together in unity.

Indonesian Ambassador to the Vatican, Budiman Bahar commented that the cooperation with the Vatican Museums is truly a strategic opportunity for Indonesia’s tourism promotion.

Indonesia was given a 292 square meters space to showcase the country’s social and cultural collections from across the archipelago. The space is the largest compared to other countries such as Australia or India. The Indonesia room will exhibit collections that embody Indonesia’s State Motto: Unity in Diversity. “Here we can display the concept of how pluralism works in Indonesia , which will be viewed not only by those in the Vatican, but also from the across the world since the Vatican Museum is visited by nationals around the globe” added Budiman Bahar as reported by antaranews.com.

Meanwhile, Aji Nugroho, Political and Social Officer of the Indonesian Embassy to the Vatican revealed that the Vatican Museum already possesses over 1100 pieces of Indonesian art and culture which were presented as gifts by missionaries to succeeding Popes.

Among antique Indonesian collections here are Wayang Kulit or leather puppets, a replica of the Borobudur Temple, Javanese Batik fabrics, beautiful Woodcarvings, artworks by the Asmat ethnic group in Papua, and a whole lot more. However, some of these already need restoration.

Indonesia and the Vatican are committed to continue the cooperation to develop this permanent display room. According to plan, the Indonesia room will be complemented with an Indonesian Garden featuring a bronze statue of the endangered one-horned Rhino or the Java Rhino, whose sole remaining habitat in the world is at the Ujung Kulon National Park in the western part of Java. The statue was originallydisplayed at the Indonesian Pavilion in the Milan Expo 2015 which was later presented to the Vatican Museum as a gift.

Aside from the Indonesian Garden, the display room will also have an educational area dedicated for school children to learn more about the Indonesian people and her cultures.

The establishment of the permanent Indonesia room was initiated by the Indonesian Embassy to the Vatican and was fully supported by the Ministry of Tourism. The official visit of Minister Arief Yahya was also intended to observe first hand the location of the Indonesia room and to further discuss its development.

The idea for the cooperation first emerged in 2011 and later applied in 2012 through the revitalization and opening of the permanent display on Borobudur’s temple reliefs. The cooperation was followed in 2014 by a temporary display of Indonesia under the theme: “Land of Harmony” which highlighted Indonesia’s national concept of pluralism, as embodied in the motto Bhinneka Tunggal Ika: Unity in Diversity.

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Iran, a gate to Central Asia for world countries

Ashgabat, Dec 12, IRNA – First Vice-President Es’haq Jahangiri said on Saturday that Iran is a gate to Central Asia for the countries.

He made the remarks in a meeting with Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic on the sidelines of 20th anniversary of Permanent Neutrality of Turkmenistan Conference.

The VP pointed out good cooperation and longstanding ties between Iran and Croatia and said that Iran is fully ready for cooperation with Croatia and that the private sectors of the two countries should be active in the arena.

He expressed deep concern about deterioration of humanitarian crisis in the Middle East, especially activities of terrorist groups in the region and said that Iran was the first country which warned against threat of Daesh and other terrorist groups to the world, but many European countries did not pay attention.

Jahangiri added that Iran is ready to contribute to settle regional crises.

He said that fight against terrorism and extremism need collective resolve and that solution for many of regional crises, like Syria and Yemen, are political and Croatia can play an important role in this concern.

Kitarovic expressed her country’s interest to develop cooperation with Iran and said that energy, tourism, shipbuilding, science and technology, marine industries, traffic and transport are the grounds for bilateral cooperation between Iran and Croatia.

She asked Jahangiri to conveyed her greetings to President Hassan Rouhani and announced the 100th anniversary of Islam entering Croatia will be held in near future.

She said that it will be good opportunity to strengthen the Croatian ties with the Islamic countries, especially Iran.

The Croatia President called for preparing two draft agreements for cooperation in the field of economic and reciprocal support for investment between the two countries and called for active participation of private sectors of both countries in different economic fields.

She called education and cultural development as a mechanism for fight against extremism and violence and underlined joint confrontation against Daesh and other extremist groups.

She expressed hope to pay a visit to Iran in a near future to usher in economic cooperation between the two countries.

Jahangiri on the head of high ranking delegation arrived in Ashgabat on Saturday morning to attend the 20th anniversary of Permanent Neutrality of Turkmenistan conference.

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Minister encourages foreign firms to open branches in Iran

Tehran, Dec 13, IRNA – Minister of Petroleum Bijan Zangeneh encouraged international companies to open representative offices in Tehran in partnership with Iranian companies.

Addressing the 12th Iran Petrochemical Forum here on Sunday, the minister urged foreign companies to work in partnership with an Iranian company in order to get government support.

Referring to the last stages of activities of the Iranian nuclear negotiations team in the next few days, he voiced optimism for beginning of a new era in Iran after the sanctions.

He stressed Iran’s status as the region’s biggest petrochemical market and said the country will transform into the biggest consumer of its own petrochemical output once down-stream industries are sufficiently developed.

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Indonesia launches new visitor guide for Muslim tourists

Thursday 10 Dec 2015 – Singapore, (IINA) – Indonesia has launched a new interactive visitor guide as part of a major campaign to position itself as a key leading destination for Muslim tourists, TODAYonline news reported.

The Muslim visitor guide, which was released earlier today, has been created as part of a long-term campaign by tourism officials to diversify their visitor arrivals to Indonesia which has more than 17,000 islands in its archipelago.

Called Many Lands. Timeless Culture. One Journey, the guide aims to highlight Indonesia’s rich and diverse culture by referencing the best experiences, shopping, dining and even prayer facilities across the country. The 70-page guide was compiled by the Ministry of Tourism of Indonesia and leading online travel platform HalalTrip and is available in English and Arabic.

It also comes in both a printed version and as well as a free downloadable e-book.

Indonesia’s Tourism Minister Arief Yahya said: “We want to assure the comfort of these travellers by providing information about various tourism products and services in many destinations in Indonesia, which comply with their needs and expectations to enhance their holiday experiences.”

Each section in the new Muslim visitor guide provides information on attractions and experiences across the country, and highlights the best halal dining experiences in that region, as well as hotel accommodation, places to pray and mosques.

Fazal Bahardeen, CEO of HalalTrip, said: “Indonesia is one of the most vibrant and diverse countries in the world with an amazing offering for Muslim travellers full of culture and vibrant energy.”

The Muslim travel market is now widely recognized as a key growth tourism sector projected to be worth US$200 billion (S$281 billion) by 2020.

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Islamic finance in Indonesia predicted to grow 15% in 2016

Thursday 10 Dec 2015 – Jakarta, (IINA) – The Islamic finance sector in Indonesia is forecast to grow by around 15 percent next year as per projections of the Masyarakat Ekonomi Syariah (MES), or Islamic Economic Society, a Jakarta-based non-profit organization focused on enhancing the Islamic banking industry in the country, Middle East North Africa Financial Network (MENAFN) online news reported.

MES has set up different scenarios for the sector’s growth that depend on Indonesia’s macroeconomic development in 2016, namely the country’s GDP growth, inflation and currency exchange rate. Under a normal scenario, with Indonesia’s economic growth at around 5 percent, inflation at 4.7 percent and a rupiah exchange rate at 13,900 per US dollar, Islamic financing is projected to grow up to 15 percent in 2016, while Islamic banking assets are expected to grow 14.6 percent.

Assets held by Islamic financial institutions in Indonesia are expected to remain just below the 5 percentage point mark of the nation’s total banking assets, showing that – despite having the world’s largest Muslim population Indonesia’s Islamic banking industry lags far behind its conventional counterpart and the growth potential is huge. In comparison, neighbour Malaysia has a market share in Islamic finance of more than 20 percent and Saudi Arabia around 50 percent.

However, the country is undertaking steps to strengthen the sector and raise the level of inclusion of its 250mn-population in Islamic finance. A five-year strategy for the Islamic finance industry has recently been released that basically says it wants Indonesia’s Islamic banks to hold at least 15 percent of the market by 2023. One reason that Islamic finance still remains a niche business in Indonesia has been attributed to the low general financial literacy among the public, with Islamic finance further behind, according to nationwide surveys. Thus, the Islamic finance roadmap would expand on education and promotion activities, while developing rules and industry certification for religious experts that endorse Islamic financial products. Rules on rights and obligations regarding underlying assets of sukuk are being developed, while a law on Islamic securities would be drafted by 2017.

Due to high potential, Islamic finance in Indonesia is also attractive for foreign investment. In the past, the hindrance has been the rule that foreign investors cannot own more than 40 percent of Islamic banks in Indonesia.

However, the country’s financial authorities are considering raising this ceiling to entice more potential investors, namely Middle Eastern and Malaysian banks. First positive results were that Dubai Islamic Bank widened its operations in Indonesia in October 2015 after it obtained approval from Indonesia’s Financial Services Authority to increase its stake in Bank Panin Syariah to 40 percent from 24.9 percent.

Bahrain-based Al Baraka Banking Group said it had plans to venture into Indonesia next year, and Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank also mentioned it is “closely eyeing” Indonesia as one country to expand into as part of its overall Southeast Asian expansion strategy.

Presently, the Islamic banking industry in Indonesia comprises 12 Islamic banks, 22 “Islamic windows” of conventional banks and 163 Shariah-compliant cooperative banks in rural areas of the country. There are plans to create a “mega-Islamic bank” as early as next year by merging the Islamic units of state-controlled banks Bank Rakyat Indonesia, Bank Mandiri and Bank Negara Indonesia which would reduce operating costs and make it possible to offer more competitive products, while making integration between Indonesia’s Islamic banks and the global financial system easier.

However, the roadmap towards such a huge merger has so far proven to be difficult and the Indonesian government is also considering alternatives such as setting up a new state-controlled Islamic bank or converting an existing non-Islamic bank into a Shariah-compliant financial institution.

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Index to measure status of knowledge in Arab countries

Friday 11 Dec 2015 – Dubai, (IINA) – UAE-based Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Foundation (MBRF) and the UN Development Program (UNDP) have launched on Wednesday the first edition of the Arab Knowledge Index, a systematic mechanism to monitor the status of knowledge in the Arab countries every year, WAM reported.

The announcement came during a press conference during the Knowledge Summit of 2015. Jamal bin Huwaireb, Managing Director of the MBRF, said that the index has been developed after a year of field research, in-depth studies and reviews, and a series of workshops conducted in some Arab and international countries such as Morocco, Jordan, the US, France and the UK.

The Arab Knowledge Index consists of six primary indexes that cover the most vital sectors that represent the knowledge levels in every Arab country. These indexes are, Pre-university education; Higher education; Vocational education and training; Research & development and innovation; Information technology and communication; and Economic sector.

Bin Huwaireb said: “The Arab Knowledge Index takes into account national, historical and cultural characters of each Arab country separately, and is flexible enough to be adopted in several countries with different development levels. The index does not aim to create rankings but is a scientific tool that describes the status of knowledge in the Arab region. It establishes a roadmap for the economic and societal development strategies”.

He also stated that while this year the Arab Knowledge Index features only Arab countries, efforts are on to include all Islamic countries in the Index from next year onwards.

On his part, Dr. Sima Bahouth, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and Director of the Regional Bureau for the Arab States in the UNDP, said that the Arab Knowledge Index will serve as a pragmatic tool to establish sustainable development in the region.

“We live in turbulent times and the region is losing focus in the area of knowledge, leading to spurts in extremism and other issues of concern. Qualitative education can help eradicate poverty and unemployment in the region and help establish development channels in the region”, Dr. Bahouth added.

The three-day Knowledge Summit 2015 was organized by the MBRF, under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Dubai.

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Guyana’s Ultimate: “A Green Economy” set to be a reality

Gina – Government’s willingness is all about promoting a green and sustainable economy. This resounding theme was echoed throughout the National 2015 Budget, presented by Finance Minister Winston Jordan.

This trope of a ‘green economy’ is now quite universal; it is defined as an economy that results in reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities, and that aims for sustainable development without degrading the environment. Put simply, the ‘green economy’ is all about a mutual and salubrious existence with the environment.

The 2011 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Green Economy Report argues “that to be green, an economy must not only be efficient, but also fair. Fairness, the report says, “implies recognising global and country level equity dimensions, particularly in assuring a just transition to an economy that is low-carbon, resource efficient, and socially inclusive.”

Where Guyana is concerned, “Greening the energy sector must be via substantially increasing investment in renewable energy, and in providing opportunities to make a significant contribution in addressing the challenges of a number of global concerns: energy security; climate change; pollution and public-health hazards; and energy poverty.”

Even though somewhat tardy, Guyana is now showing great enthusiasm where this matter is concerned. It was hinted at in the Budget 2015, and in his address at the commencement of the eleventh Parliament of Guyana, President David Granger laid out his vision for the ‘greening’ of Guyana’s economy.

The Guyanese Head, at the time, forcefully stated that “Your Government envisages a green Guyana. We shall exploit Guyana’s favourable geographical location and abundant assets in order to develop a ‘green economy’ (that is) one that generates human happiness in ways that are consistent with economic exploitation of its natural resources. We see a ‘green economy’ as one that sustains economic prosperity, environmental security and social well-being. It will allow the current generation to satisfy its needs without jeopardizing the opportunity of future generations to satisfy theirs.”

We should know by now that diversifying energy sources is not a new concept, nor is it unique to Guyana. Other nations, for example, the United States of America, have for some time now been utilising solar, wind, geothermal, bioenergy and water energy.

Overall, developed countries, in the context of climate change issues, are all driving the growth of renewable and ‘green energy.’

This means that outside of producing clean energy for domestic purposes, there is a huge potential for income generation, and overall economic opportunities for countries that manufacture and produce clean energy.

In a recent report, compiled by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)’s Green Economy Initiative, in collaboration with economists and experts worldwide, it was demonstrated that the greening of economies did not generally place a drag on growth; rather ‘green economies’ proved to be net generators of decent jobs, and a vital strategy for the elimination of poverty.

President Granger has already manifested that he understands not only the science of ‘green energy,’ but also its huge financial implications, all of which are most pertinent to this country’s long-term benefit.

Indeed, where Guyana is concerned, there are many aspects to a green economy, and Government has already started to blaze some of these trails.

A little while back, maybe just before advanced technology actually came to Guyana, things like plastic straws, ‘take-away’ cups and boxes and other Styrofoam derivatives were seen by many Guyanese as a ‘step-up.’ Few took the time to actually inquire into even a rudimentary grasp of the ‘Styrofoam’ revolution.

Today, even at the nursery level, students learn the reality that Styrofoam is not only bad for health, but is also very harmful to the environment and the health of future generations as well.

The simple, mundane act of placing “to go” foods in Styrofoam containers is not a ‘best-practice’ routine. The heat from the warm food products and any grease or oils that get onto the container can melt the Styrofoam. This can cause a variety of health problems for the person consuming the food, even if these deleterious effects are delayed.

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Tourism conference focuses on ways of marketing Guyana

Georgetown, GINA, December 7, 2015 – The coalition government is determined to make Guyana a must-see tourist destination, and has committed to doing everything possible to make this a reality. It is against this background that the first national tourism conference was held today at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre.

The conference which was planned and executed by the Ministry of Tourism through the Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA), targeted stakeholders of Guyana’s budding tourism sector. It focused entirely on selling a better product of Guyana’s tourism industry on the international market.

The stakeholders were addressed by Tourism Minister Cathy Hughes prior to the official workshop session conducted by Strategic Marketing Lecturer of the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus and longtime tourism expert, Jennifer Barrow.

Minister Hughes in her brief presentation told the gathering that, “you are the stakeholders of Guyana’s very important and growing tourism industry, you provide the product, the services and most importantly the experience visitors to this beautiful Guyana will yearn for.”

Tourism has been noted as a billion dollar industry worldwide with the provision of adventure, leisure, and eco-tourism and other aspects, most of which Guyana can compete with. The Minister believes that these provide tremendous opportunities for Guyana .

Minister Hughes explained that Guyana is blessed with a beautiful, pristine landscape teeming with activities, and the offer of life changing experiences that will satisfy any visitor.

While more emphasis is placed on getting the international tourists to visit Guyana, the Ministry also has intentions to provide Guyanese at home with the opportunities of seeing their own country.

“For too long Guyanese have not had the opportunity to enjoy our tourism product, and therefore part of what we want to achieve over the next 12 months is to encourage them and provide opportunities at a competitive price so they can see more of our beautiful country, so they can be the spokespersons that we need them to be,” Minister Hughes stated.

Over the years one of the challenges facing the development of Guyana’s tourism industry has been the availability of funds to market and sell the country, and develop product innovations among others.

Against this background, Minister Hughes advised the stakeholders that, coming from the private sector herself as a former tourism service provider, “we have struggled for many many years with this industry.”

The stakeholders were then told that the conference will provide an opportunity for discussions on the way forward for the industry, and the availability of funds for the various initiatives in selling Guyana’s tourism product.

“I must say that in the six months I have been in this position, I have been pleasantly surprised that there is funding available for tourism products and innovative resources that we can bring to the table…we can provide support to businesses in terms of developing your product document to access those funds.”

The conference’s foundation discussion was on the business of tourism and it fits into the Government’s vision for the tourism industry. “I want to make sure that we put more feet on Guyana’s soil, more tables at restaurants filled with people and certainly more trips to our beautiful historic buildings and of course, Rupununi, Essequibo, whatever products and services you provide, we want to ensure that the bodies to support your businesses are here.”

The conference also discussed several other areas which are aimed at enhancing Guyana’s tourism product. These include; pricing and packaging, business to business marketing, and travel as a tool for education and innovations through agriculture. It also saw the participation of other local, regional and international tourism experts.

The event has been identified as the culminating activity for Tourism Awareness Month 2015 which was held in November under the theme, “Growing the business of tourism through product innovation.”

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Maldives tourism bodies separate marketing, development functions

Sun.mv – December 9, 2015 – The Government has decided that marketing the Maldivian tourism as the only mandate for the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC).

In an interview with Sun Media today, Tourism Minister Moosa Zameer said that from now on, awarding islands for resort developments and other related work would be done by the Tourism Ministry alone.

Minister Zameer said that MMPRC cannot accomplish it’s original purpose if they are handling other activities.

“In other investments, for example selling islands and such, when MMPRC is involved in all this, their primary focus is lost and other inappropriate things happen inside it.” Tourism Minister Zameer said.

He said that the Government has decided that MMPRC would only be promoting and advertising Maldivian tourism. And researching the changes to the world tourism market and taking appropriate steps has been decided as a mandate of the MMPRC.

Changes to the MMPRC mandate are being made at a time where the Police and the Anti-Corruption Commission are investigating the MMPRC for corruption during the leasing of islands for resort development.

Police have completed the investigation of some cases involving the MMPRC and sent to the Prosecutor General’s Office. One of which include charges of embezzlement against the former Managing Director of MMPRC Abdulla Ziyath and charges of misappropriate of Government funds against the former Vice President, Ahmed Adheeb Abdul Gafoor.

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Larger lagoons to be leased on real-estate basis to tourism

Sun.mv – December 7, 2015 – The Government has decided to lease the larger lagoons of the Maldives to the tourism on a real-estate basis.

In an interview with Sun Media tonight, Tourism Minister Moosa Zameer said that the decision to lease lagoons to the tourism sector on real-estate basis has been made and they working with the Economic Ministry on the relevant tasks.

Minister Zameer said that acquisition costs and other taxes would be taken from investors by the Government when leasing lagoons.

The Tourism Minister said that the lagoons would be leased not through public announcements but by choosing the best proposals for the lagoons.

After taking over as the Tourism Minister, Minister Zameer began special projects to improve the tourism sector. And so he has visited Singapore and met with investors and shared information about investment opportunities in the Maldives.

Minister Zameer has recently visited Addu City to explore developmental opportunities in the city. The Minister showed the island of Ismehelahere to investors interested in developing the island as a tourist resort and held discussions with them.

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Historical site discovered at Thinadhoo Friday Mosque area

Sun.mv – December 7, 2015 – A historical site has been discovered during the cleaning of the Thinadhoo Hukuru Miskiy (Friday Mosque) after it’s demolition to build an Islamic Center.

Thinadhoo Island Council said that the one meter high monument was found under the mosque.

Vice President of the Thinadhoo Island Council, Ibrahim Assad told Sun Media today that the monument found four days ago was part of the mosque built in the island ages ago.

“During the cleaning of the area, a small 25×18 feet mosque made of limestone was found. And there are signs that the mosque was made bigger two or three times.” Councilman Assad said.

Councilman Assad said that the historical site has a date written in Arabic with historical carvings.

He said that they are considering changing the area to a park-like place so that the site would be visible to the people.

Assad said that before building the Islamic Center, the whole ground of the mosque courtyard would be dug up and re-soiled. A team from Heritage is scheduled to visit the island to see the historic site.

Thinadhoo Friday Mosque was closed after a corpse was discovered in the mosque area.

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Passport e-gates to be introduced at INIA

Sun.mv – December 8, 2015 – Department of Immigration and Emigration has announced plans to place passport e-gates at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Chief Principal of Immigration Hassan Khaleel said that e-gate service would begin at the end of January 2016, and would replace Immigration Officers.

He said that initially, three gates would be placed at the arrival hall and one at the departure hall.

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Maldives exhibition to display talents of people with disabilities

Sun.mv – December 8, 2015 – An exhibition has been opened in the name “Redhan 2015 – Fannuveri Aharemen” (Talented We) to display the talents and creativity of people with disabilities and bring their products to the market.

The exhibition that began the National Art Gallery was opened by the President Abdulla Yamin Abdul Gayoom.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Attorney General Mohamed Anil said that a number of excellent products made by people with disabilities would be displayed at the two-day exhibition.

The Gender Ministry said that items displayed at the exhibition would be sold by the end of the exhibition.

Attorney General Anil said that browsing the exhibition, it is evident that the products were made by talented, capable and proactive people and all they want are opportunities.

And so he said that the Government is working hard to provide such opportunities and the exhibition opened today is a link in the chain of success.

At the opening ceremony of the exhibition today, a special braille Thaana (modern writing system in Maldives) book for the blind was launched. The book was launched by the First Lady, Fathimath Ibrahim.

Attorney General Anil said that this new exhibition would be hosted every year.

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Turkish Airlines opens new route to Ukraine

ISTANBUL – Hurriyet Daily News – Turkish Airlines will begin operating a new flight to Ukraine from Istanbul by the end of the year, the flag carrier said on Dec. 4, as reported by Anadolu Agency.

The service to Zaporizhia, a city in the south of the country that sits on the Dnieper River, will run four times a week from Dec. 28, the company said.

“With existing services to Kyiv, Odessa, Dnepropetrovsk, Lviv and Kherson, Turkish Airlines now adds Zaporizhia, one of the largest cities in Ukraine, to its expanding network,” the airline said in a statement, as quoted by Anadolu Agency.

Introductory fares will start at $149 from Istanbul to Zaporizhia and $139, including taxes and fees, for travelers heading to Turkey.

Meanwhile, the company has recently firmed a commitment for the purchase of 20 additional A321neo aircraft.

The airline already has 72 A321neo on order and is now again renewing its confidence in the A321neo as the aircraft of choice to boost its expansion.

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Guitar fest to open in Antalya

ISTANBUL – Hurriyet Daily News – The 4th International Antalya Guitar Festival will run from Dec. 10 to Dec. 12 in Turkey’s southern province of Antalya.

Organized by the Middle East Technical University Alumni Association and the local Muratpaşa Municipality, the festival will be held at the Murat Paşa Municipality Cultural Center.

The festival will open on Dec. 10 with a concert by Turkish guitar virtuoso Ahmet Kanneci and end with a closing performance by Victor Monge Seranito on Dec. 12.

In addition to the many performances, the festival will also feature a series of masterclasses and conferences on guitar playing.

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Ani’s rock paintings belong to humanity

KARS – Anadolu Agency – The head of the Culture and Arts Association in the eastern province of Kars, Vedat Akçayöz, has said the registration of 15 rock paintings discovered around the Alem village, some 11 kilometers away from the ancient city of Ani on the Turkish-Armenian border, has been sent to the Museum Directorate, adding the hope was to have the entire area added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

Akçayöz said the 15 rock paintings carved on the rocks depicted hunting scenes with horses, dogs, mountain goats, deer and humans.

He said that upon their application, Kars Museum Director Necmettin Alp, Culture and Tourism Provincial Director Hakan Doğançay and Board of Protection of Cultural Property Director Yasin Dursun had begun works to register the Prehistoric-era rock paintings.

Akçayöz said they had asked for the region to be declared an archaeological site, adding they hoped the ancient city of Ani and its environment would be included in the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2016.

Stating that the association had been supporting Kars’ culture and arts for 15 years, Akçayöz said the following:

“2016 will be a very important year for the future of Ani, Kars and Turkish tourism. The Alem village is home to 15 rock paintings that have never been examined and belong to humanity. The importance of this discovery is that Ani and its environment dates back thousands of years older than we had known. Therefore the inns, rock tombs and settlements around the ancient city of Ani should be declared an archaeological site as a whole. Works have started in the rock tombs. On Nov. 24, a committee including the museum director, archaeologist and art historians coordinated to collect the data for registration. These rock paintings will play a significant role for the ruins of Ani to be included in the UNESCO list in 2016.”

The ancient Ani was once the capital of a medieval Armenian kingdom that covered much of present-day Armenia and eastern Turkey. Ani is protected on its eastern side by a ravine formed by the Akhurian River and on its western side by the Bostanlar or Tzaghkotzadzor Valley. The Akhurian is a branch of the Aras River and forms part of the current border between Turkey and Armenia.

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Indonesia Tourism Minister seeks support of UNWTO

7 December 2015 London (ANTARA News) – Tourism Minister Arief Yahya held a meeting with Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UN WTO) Thaleb Rifai and some UN WTO executives at the organizations headquarters in Madrid, Spain.

The minister informed Rifai about Indonesias target to increase the number of foreign tourist arrivals from 10 million to 20 million a year, the Indonesian embassy in Madrid said in a statement on Monday.

The government has taken some measures to achieve the target, such as deregulation, innovation, and promotion, among others, by implementing the visa-free policy for tourists from 90 countries and revoking the Cruising Application for Indonesian Territory (CAIT) permits that open access for foreign yachts and sailing boats to five main Indonesian harbors.

As for innovation, the government will develop 10 new potential tourism destinations, apart from Bali.

The ministry has intensified its promotional activities through conventional and unconventional media, such as digital marketing and smart destination.

Minister Yahya also invited the UN WTO to establish cooperation to analyze the visa-free policy and to organize a seminar on “Beyond Bali Destination: Opportunities and Challenges.”

The UN WTO secretary general lauded Indonesias new policies to boost the tourism industry, saying that it is on the right track. He promised to help promote Indonesian destinations to other UN WTO member countries.

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Spain praises Indonesia’s tourism diversity

7 December 2015 London (ANTARA News) – Spanish Tourism Secretary of State Isabel Maria Borrego Cortes praised the diversity and beauty of the Indonesian tourism destinations while receiving her Indonesian counterpart, Arief Yahya, in Madrid.

Yahya was in Spain on a working visit from December 3 to 5, 2015, the Indonesian embassy in Madrid said in a statement on Monday.

In the meeting with Cortes, Minister Yahya was accompanied by Indonesian Ambassador to Spain Yuli Mumpuni Widarso, and Deputy in charge of international tourism marketing, I Gde Pitana.

The Spanish Secretary of State for Tourism was flanked by the Director of Tourism Cooperation and Competition, Isabel Alonso Pinar.

The Indonesian Tourism Minister informed his counterpart about Indonesias target of doubling the number of foreign tourist arrivals from 10 million to 20 million a year.

He also expressed his wish to learn about tourism promotion from Spain which manages to attract 67 million foreign tourists a year, making the tourism industry its national economic backbone.

Cortes expressed her support for Indonesia for achieving its target and offered cooperation in this regard.

Yahya proposed cooperation in human resources capacity building in the tourism sector by allowing Indonesian students of higher learning institutes in this sector to do internships in Spain.

He also offered investment opportunities in the development and management of Tourism Special Economic Zone and National Tourism Strategic Zone, beyond just Bali.

The Spanish minister welcomed an offer to develop a big data program for digital marketing and smart destinations in Indonesia.

She said she was also interested in investing in maritime tourism in Indonesia.

Yahya invited Cortes to visit Indonesia.

Arief Yahya also held a meeting with Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UN WTO) Taleb Rifai and some UN WTO executives at the organizations headquarters.

Minister Yahya also invited the UN WTO to establish cooperation to analyze the visa-free policy and to organize a seminar on “Beyond Bali Destination: Opportunities and Challenges.”

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Indonesia to hold its biggest trade expo in Vietnam

10 December 2015 Hanoi, Vietnam (ANTARA News) – Indonesia is holding its first ever biggest exhibition in Hanoi aimed at finding distributors for its products ahead of the implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) on January 1, 2016.

“We are bringing Indonesian products to Vietnam to meet their needs. The exhibition is a means for Indonesian companies to meet with distributors of their products in Vietnam,” Minister Counselor at the Indonesian Embassy in Hanoi, Sadikin, said after opening the Indonesian trade exhibition and Indonesia-Vietnam business forum on Wednesday.

He said the exhibition is particularly aimed at introducing Indonesian products in Vietnam as the two countries are trying to achieve a bilateral trade target of US$10 billion by 2018.

Trade between the two countries stood at US$5.1 billion in 2014.

As many as 30 Indonesian companies are currently operating in Vietnam.

According to Sadikin, the exhibition will become an annual event, which will allow Indonesia to enjoy Vietnamese economic growth, which is projected to reach 6.3 percent this year.

In his opening address at the exhibition, Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, Do Thang Hai said the exhibition may serve as a good chance for the two countries to enhance cooperation.

The exhibition, which will also mark the 60th anniversary of Indonesia-Vietnam diplomatic ties, will hopefully produce the best thing, he said.

The Indonesian products displayed at the exhibition include foods and beverages, automotive products, spare parts, oil and coal, electronic appliances, and pharmaceutical products.

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Indonesia should develop creative economy to face AEC

11 December 2015 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – Indonesia needs to develop its creative economic sector as one of the key economic aspects in the face of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).

“The AEC is before our eyes, and Indonesia should continue to develop its creative economic sector,” Anggawira, the chairman of the Indonesian Young Businessman Association (HIPMI) in charge of Organizational Affairs, stated here, Friday.

Indonesia’s creative economy has strong potential and offers unending renewable resources, unlike natural resources, according to Anggawira. The creative economic sector could also strengthen the identity of Indonesia, which has rich local wisdom.

Earlier, Trade Minister Thomas Lembong had expressed optimism that the countrys small- and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs) would be ready to face the AEC to be implemented starting January 1, 2016.

“I have traveled to regions and visited several SME exhibitions. I am confident since several SMEs have recorded success stories and view the AEC as an opportunity rather than fearing it, coming under pressure, or opposing the ASEAN integration,” the minister affirmed in Jakarta on December 7, 2015.

To support the SMEs, the government has issued policies on business deregulation and debureaucratization to simplify licensing processes and to address overlapping regulations, according to Lembong.

State Enterprises Minister Rini Soemarno also recently remarked that state-owned companies are ready for the implementation of the AEC as of early 2016 by establishing synergy between state enterprises (BUMNs).

“I say that we should not be afraid of facing the AEC. Synergy among BUMNs could strengthen domestic companies, so that foreign firms from other ASEAN member countries keen to enter (Indonesia) would not be able to succeed as our BUMNs are stronger,” Minister Rini stated on December 10, 2015.

Strengthening synergy between BUMNs could help to maintain Indonesias position in the AEC, according to the minister.

In the meantime, Indonesia should be able to take full advantage of the AEC and not merely be a spectator, Deputy Chairman of the Peoples Consultative Assembly (MPR) Hidayat Nur Wahid noted.

“I am afraid that Indonesia would be more of a spectator in the implementation of the AEC in 2016,” Wahid remarked on Dec. 9.

He pointed out that several foreign products, more competitive in price and quality, would flood the domestic market following the implementation of the AEC.

It is feared that foreign workers, who are more competitive in terms of their skills, would seek jobs in Indonesia, and the country would only serve as a good market for other ASEAN countries, he added.

Several Thai citizens are already studying Indonesian language ahead of the implementation of the AEC, he revealed.

Meanwhile, the Creative Economy Board called on the Indonesian youth from across the country to capitalize on the opportunities arising from the implementation of the AEC.

“The youth should be quick to grab any opportunity when the AEC is implemented by the end of the year,” Hari Santosa Sungkari, a deputy for infrastructure at the Creative Economy Body, said recently.

Sungkari noted that the free market at the regional level will automatically expand the market base for creative products.

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VP Kalla reviews preparation to build hotels in Mandalika

12 December 2015 Central Lombok (ANTARA News) – Vice President M. Jusuf Kalla had the opportunity to review the preparations for the construction of four five-star hotels at Mandalika Special Economic Zones in Central Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, Saturday.

The Vice President reviewed the area together with Peoples Consultative Assembly (MPR) Chairman Zulkifli Hasan and Tourism Minister Arif Yahya.

Arriving on the scene, the Vice President and the group immediately got the exposure of a number of investors who will build the four five-star hotels at the Mandalika Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Central Lombok.

Four hotels to begin construction in 2016, are Pullman Hotel of the investment fund PT Indonesia Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC), which is a state-owned enterprise (SOEs) in the field of tourism.

Other hotels are Intercontinental Hotel, Club Med Hotel and Lees Hotel, and the construction of the entire capacity of the 850-room hotels was targeted to be completed within a period of two and a half years.

“Everything has been completed, and there no reason not to accelerate the construction of these four hotels,” the vice president noted.

After hearing the exposure of investors, the vice president then listened to the explanation of President Director of PT ITDC, Abdulbar M. Mansoer, related to the development of Mandalika SEZ within the next 10 years.

In addition to building hotels, ITDC will also build the basic infrastructure needed by the hotels to support their operation, such as the need for clean water that will utilize seawater through the refining process.

This work is done by establishing a partnership with EBD Bauer, one of the American companies engaged in the purification of seawater into fresh water.

Other infrastructure that is in the process of being set up is a solar power plant (SPP) and gas power plants for hotels in Mandalika SEZ, which will not use electrical energy from the State Electricity Company (PLN).

ITDC is also getting constructed the Tourism College (STP), which will create the human resources needed by the hotels.

“Thus, some 20 star-rated hotels will be built in the Mandalika Special Economic Zone within 20 years. For the first stage, we will build four five-star hotels, and we have prepared the basic infrastructure,” said Abdulbar.

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22 women victorious in Indonesian elections

11 December 2015 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – Lawmaker and former top model Okky Asokawati of the United Development Party (PPP) lauded the victory of 22 women candidates in the simultaneous regional head elections (pilkada) held in 264 regions on December 9, 2015.

“Female regional heads are the symbols of women in politics,” Asokawati stated here on Thursday while commenting on the unofficial preliminary results of the local elections.

“Although we are still awaiting the official results to be announced by the General Elections Commission (KPU), at least 22 female candidates won according to quick count reports,” the legislator affirmed.

She congratulated the winners and expressed hope that the women regional heads would help to make politics in Indonesia more humane rather than antagonistic.

Asokawati hoped that the women would formulate pro-people development programs that could improve the welfare of the public, in general, and women and children, in particular.

“Issues related to the health of women, children, and senior citizens must become a priority in the regional development programs,” she stated.

Women-led regions must be declared as corruption-free zones, she added.

Millions of eligible voters visited polling stations to cast their ballot in Indonesias first-ever simultaneous pilkada held in 264 regions in 32 of the countrys 34 provinces on December 9, 2015.

Initially, the pilkada was planned to be organized in 269 regions, or 53 percent of the countrys total regions, but the KPU announced on December 8 that elections in the five regions would be postponed.

The five regions are Central Kalimantan Province, Fakfak District in Papua, Pematang Siantar municipality in North Sumatra, Simalungun District in North Sumatra, and Manado city in North Sulawesi, according to KPU Commissioner Hadar Nafis Gumay.

Of the total participating regions, three had only a single candidate each: Blitar in East Java, Tasikmalaya in West Java, and North Timor Tengah in East Nusa Tenggara. In such cases, a feedback was sought from the voters whether the sole candidate pair was acceptable to them.

More than 800 pairs of regional head candidates contested for the posts of eight governors and vice governors, 222 district heads and their deputies, and 34 mayors and their deputies.

According to data recently provided by the KPU, some 100,461,890 Indonesians comprising 50,297,463 men and 50,164,427 women were eligible as voters in the 2015 pilkada.

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Indonesia launches national 4G service

12 December 2015 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – President Joko Widodo officially launched here the 4G service that will work at a frequency of 1,800 MHz nation-wide on Friday after all formalities were completed in November.

The 4G LTE 1,800 MHz service is operated by five operators, namely Telkomsel, Indosat Ooredoo, XL, Hutchinson 3 and Smartfren.

The 4G LTE 1,800 MHz service will add to the momentum of digital revolution, considering the fact that Internet speed, capacity and access will be higher than what the previous technology offered.

President Joko Widodo hoped the digital revolution would drive the economic revolution since the digital economy is growing very fast.

“Digital revolution is, effectively, the economic revolution,” he said.

The Ministry of Informatics and Communication had designed various programs to realize the Indonesia Broadband Plan, a mobile broadband access service for Indonesian people in various regions.

It is hoped that better data access through provision of broadband service would deliver a lot more benefit to the people.

The Minister of Communication and Informatics, Rudiantara, said the development of digital ecosystem in Indonesia required accelerated broadband development evenly across the country. It also required empowerment of self-reliant small businesses to make them part of the digital economy or e-commerce. Also, it will help lend full support to local application developer community or young start-ups to help them become masters in their own country.

With the presence of 4G LTE in the country, it is hoped that digital creative economic growth will be accelerated and the country will be able to compete at regional or even global level, he said.

“4G LTE is only a sub-system of digital economy,” he added.

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Cultural Week launched in Morocco

ABU DHABI, Dec 7 (NNN-MAP) — King Mohammed VI of Morocco, accompanied by Prince Moulay Rachid, presided over the official launch of Moroccan Cultural Week in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Abu Dhabi on Friday.

The king also toured the different pavilions erected on this occasion. King Mohammed VI later attended at Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club’s Fantasia show.

The king is paying a friendship and working visit to the UAE which coincides with the celebration of the 44th anniversary of the National Day of this country on Dec 2.

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US$200 World Bank loan to boost public transport in Morocco

WASHINGTON, Dec 11 (NNN-WORLD BANK) — The World Bank has announced a US$200 million programme to improve urban mobility in Morocco, and in particular the quality and management of public transport.

With 60% of 34 million Moroccans living in cities, public transport has a vital role to play. Local municipalities have struggled to provide good roads, and with the limited resources and capacity they have to manage public transport. This has affected its quality and reliability.

The transport programme will focus on cities of over 100,000 inhabitants in nine regions, aiming to strengthen the capacity of local authorities to plan and monitor public transport, centrally and locally.

A central goal is to improve the quality of urban transport services, with a large reduction in travel time. This programme, a Programme for Results (PforR), will disburse funds only when milestones agreed upon in advance are completed.

“An efficient urban transport system is essential for urban mobility, which will underpin the development of Moroccan cities”, said Marie Françoise Marie-Nelly, World Bank Maghreb Country Director. “Improved public transport systems will mean increased productivity and better access to economic opportunities and key services such as health and education, particularly for the most disadvantaged citizens.”

Morocco estimates the financing for its urban transport sector will reach US$3 billion over a decade. The goal of its national plan is two-fold: to improve the sector’s management and make it financially sustainable; and to build a web of urban transport corridors within larger cities. The Bank will support the government’s plan with expertise and global knowledge.

“This is a timely programme to support the Moroccan government’s public transport agenda. Beyond strengthening institutions and decentralised management more broadly, the project will support the establishment of public transport corridors and improve the efficiency of traffic management with dedicated infrastructure,” says Vickram Cuttaree, Senior Infrastructure Economist and Task Team Leader.

The World Bank has stepped up its engagement in the urban transport sector in Morocco over the past few years. A US$136.7 million-Development Policy Loan (DPL) was launched in 2011 to improve the sector’s governance and increase urban transport and infrastructure.

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Malaysia Airports confident of better days ahead in 2016

SEPANG, Malaysia Dec 8 (NNN-Bernama) — Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) is optimistic of capturing a fair share of the travellers market in 2016, boosted by the government’s effort to relax visa restriction process.

Managing Director Badlisham Ghazali said there were a lot of headwinds this year such as the haze, aftermath of the twin MAS tragedies (MH370 and MH17) and other air incidents.

“We are going forward. We are already seeing a surge in travellers from China. For 2016, MAHB is optimistic as the government has announced that it will issue e-visa to China and India.

“This will be good for the industry if it works out well,” he told reporters after launching the Indulge and Explore Campaign at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (klia2) here, today.

Badlisham said the industry had previously estimated that about 100 million passengers travel around the world every year.

Asked on MAHB’s target, he said, “We want to make sure we capture our fair attention, and will announce our forecast in 2016.”

On the campaign, Badlisham said the three-month campaign, which kicked off on Dec 7 until March 6 next year, would reward travellers for shopping and dining at KLIA and klia2 terminals while giving them opportunity to explore.

“Every traveller is an explorer and Malaysia Airports is hoping to unleash the explorer in every traveller passing through KLIA and klia2. It is possible to indulge and benefit in terms of broadening one’s horizons and experiences particularly in the areas of wildlife conservation and personal wellness,” he said.

In addition, travellers stand to experience the opportunity of a lifetime as a volunteer in a Panda Experience programme, as the grand prize of the campaign.

He said the campaign was also aimed at further promoting an understanding of conservation among Malaysians and international travellers.

“Malaysia Airports has always been a supporter in sustainability practices. We were the first airport in the world to incorporate rainforest in our terminal. This campaign is an extension of what we believe – the need for and the importance of sustaining our ecosystem,” he added.

To be eligible for the contest, travellers must spend a minimum of RM200 at any food and beverage outlets at KLIA and/or klia2 terminals, and then scan the receipts of their purchases at one of the 14 automated e-kiosks located in the terminals.

In a statement issued in conjunction with the launch, MAHB said the information captured at the e-kiosks would be uploaded to an off-site server computer that will randomly select a weekly winner for 13 weeks.

Besides the grand prize, weekly prizes comprise seven three-day Lovina Dolphin Experience trip for two in Lovina, Bali and six three-day New Leaf Detox Programme for two in Koh Samui, Thailand.

Shoppers will also be given the privilege of doubling their entries when they use their MasterCard card.

This was coupled with regular technical assistance for the Moroccan government’s transport strategy, along with research to deepen its knowledge of the sector with studies such as the Casablanca Gender and Transport report released in 2011.

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Mozambique Sees Reduced Dependence On Foreign Aid in 2016

MAPUTO, Dec 10 (NNN-AIM) — Mozambique has in recent years sharply reduced its dependence on foreign aid to finance its public expenditure, says Prime Minister Carlos Agostinho do Rosario, when presenting the 2016 draft Budget in the country’s parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, Wednesday.

In the recent past, Mozambique depended on foreign grants and loans to cover about half of its annual budget but the draft Budget for 2016 unveiled by Rosario and Finance Minister Adriano Maleiane is mostly financed by domestic taxation.

Rosario said that domestic resources would cover 74.8 per cent of total planned expenditure, and foreign aid 25.2 per cent. “This bears witness to the commitment of our government to increase, gradually and continually, the contribution of domestic resources in financing public expenditure,” he added.

The total expenditure proposed in the budget is 261.1 billion meticais (about 5.12 billion USD). Domestic revenue is expected to reach just over 181 billion meticais, leaving a deficit of 80.1 billion meticais.

In nominal terms, the expenditure in the 2016 budget is 15.3 per cent higher than the 2015 expenditure, but as a percentage of GDP it is the same, at 38.1 per cent.

The deficit will be funded by 47.6 billion meticais in foreign loans, 19.7 billion meticais in foreign grants, and 12.8 billion meticais in domestic debt, though the issuance of Treasury bonds.

The priority social and economic sectors for the fight against poverty account for 72.9 per cent of planned expenditure, once debt servicing and financial operations are excluded, with 22.9 per cent of spending going on education, 10.8 per cent on health, and 23.1 per cent on infrastructures.

Debt servicing in 2016 is put at 10.1 billion meticais, which is 1.5 per cent of GDP, up from 1.2 per cent of GDP this year. Most of the allocation — 7.2 billion meticais — is to service the interest on domestic debt, while slightly less than three billion meticais services the foreign debt.

One snag here is that the budget was drawn up before the sharp depreciation of the metical in November. Since the foreign debt is mostly denominated in dollars, expressing it in meticais depends on the exchange rate, which was 42 meticais to the dollar at the end of October, but is now about 51 meticais to the dollar.

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Kazakhstan among 16 must-see destinations for 2016

Sunday 13 Dec 2015 – London (IINA) – National Geographic Traveller of UK has announced its Cool List 2016, highlighting the 16 must-see destinations for the year ahead. Chosen by its team of editors and writers, the hotly anticipated list of countries and cities are revealed in the Jan/Feb 2016 issue of the magazine, which hit newsstand on Sunday.

Pat Riddell, editor, said, “We’ve scoured the planet for this year’s must-see destinations and come up with an eclectic list of top spots for culture, cuisine, festive celebrations, pristine coastline… and places to go. Some are obvious, some not so, but we think they should be top of anyone’s travels plans in 2016 — and beyond.”

Point 13 in the list is Kazakhstan’s metropolis Almaty. The publication writes: “Kazakhstan’s largest city and cultural capital is in the middle of a wave of regeneration — and it’s seeking a reputation as a city of sports. In 2011, Almaty hosted the Asian Winter Games. The year 2017 sees it as host city for the Winter Universiade, with £626m being poured into development. Kazakhstan is also enticing UK tourists with a visa waiver programme that’s set to last until the end of 2017.

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Saudi women vote for the first time in landmark election

Saturday 12 Dec 2015 – Riyadh (IINA) – Saudi voters, including women, started casting their votes in the country’s municipal elections on Saturday. This was for the first time women are taking part in elections as both voters and candidates in the landmark election.

More than 5,000 men and around 980 women are running as candidates for local municipal council seats. More than 130,000 women have registered to vote compared to 1.35 million men. Chairman of the Executive Committee for Elections Eng. Judai bin Nahar Al-Gahtani said in a press conference Saturday to announce the kick off of the process throughout the Kingdom that 235 candidates, out of them nine women, were disqualified during the campaigning period which lasted for 12 days and ended last Thursday for having violated the election regulations, the Saudi Press Agency reported. He noted that regulations prevent lobbying on tribal or regional bases, citing a penalty starting with disqualification and a SR50,000 fine for breaching the regulations. He said results will be announced on Sunday afternoon.

The election, which does not have quotas for females, is widely seen as a small but significant opening for women to play a more equal role in Saudi society. Not many women are expected to win seats because of the sheer number of male candidates and because many had no previous experience running campaigns. Many women said they also could not afford the high cost of running a public campaign.

“I don’t consider winning to be the ultimate goal … but it is the right of being a citizen that I concentrate on and I consider this a turning point,” said Hatoon Al-Fassi, general coordinator for the grassroots Saudi Baladi Initiative that worked closely with women to raise voter awareness and increase female participation in the election, the Associated Press reported. “We are looking at it as an opportunity to exercise our right and to push for more,” she added.

It’s the third time in recent decades that Saudi men are voting in the municipal council elections . The first local council election was held in 2005 and the second in 2011, with only men taking part. Both male and female candidates relied heavily on social media to reach voters, using Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to announce campaign events and explain their platforms, which include ideas such as creating more youth centers, nurseries, parks and improving roads.

The candidates are vying for around 2,100 council seats with an additional 1,050 seats appointed with approval from the king. While the municipal councils do not have legislative powers, they do oversee a range of community issues, such as budgets for maintaining and improving public facilities.

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Gambia declares itself an Islamic republic

Sunday 13 Dec 2015 – Banjul, Gambia (IINA) – Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh has declared on Friday that the tiny West African country will be an Islamic republic. He said the decision was taken after considering the fact that Islam is the religion of the majority of its citizens and to break from the nation’s colonial past, according to media reports.

Jammeh made the declaration at a political rally in the coastal village Brufut, about 15 kilometers west of the capital, Banjul.

“In line with the country’s religious identity and values, I proclaim Gambia as an Islamic state,” the Gambian leader said. About 90 percent of Gambia’s 1.8 million people are Muslims.

“Gambia cannot afford to continue the colonial legacy,” Jammeh said. The country gained independence from Britain in 1965.

Jammeh said the rights of Gambia’s Christian community will be respected. Jammeh said that there will be no mandates on dress. “We will be an Islamic state that would respect the rights of all citizens and non-citizens.”

The head of the country’s Islamic body wouldn’t say if he endorsed the declaration. In television footage of the address on GRTV, seen by AFP on Saturday, the president did not go into detail about what the change would mean for the country, but he reassured Christians and followers of other faiths they would be able to worship freely.

“Christians will be given their due respect. The way of celebrating Christmas will continue,” he said, adding that no one had the right to interfere with others’ “way of life”.

“We haven’t met yet to discuss over the presidential announcement,” said Gambia’s Supreme Islamic Council Chairman Imam Momodou Lamin Touray.

It is noteworthy that Jammeh stressed that the rights of the Christian minority in the country would be respected and that women would not be held to a dress code, according to Business Standard online news.

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Egypt to open museum at Cairo Airport

Friday 04 Dec 2015 – Cairo, (IINA) – Egypt will open a museum inside Cairo airport next Monday in an attempt to attract tourists who are in transit, The Telegraph reported. Officials said that the museum will be located at Terminal 3, and it will contain 39 pieces, including ones from the Pharaonic, Coptic and Islamic eras.

“It aims to give visitors a general idea about the Egyptian civilization, which will make them want to visit other places in Cairo, like the Egyptian Museum”, said Yasmin Al-Shazle, an assistant to Egypt’s minister for museum antiquities.

The Seated Scribe, one of the most famous monuments in Egyptian history, is one of at least 21 items in the exhibition that have come from the world-famous Egyptian Museum in central Cairo.

The airport museum was due to open on October 31, the day that ISIS militants brought down a Russian passenger jet as it left Sharm El-Sheikh, killing all 224 people on board.

The disaster dealt a heavy blow to a once-strong Egyptian tourist trade that had already been devastated by the political unrest that followed the Arab Spring.

The number of tourists visiting Egypt fell from about 14.7 million in 2010 to around 10 million this year, according to the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism’s figures.

Russia and Britain, two of Egypt’s main tourist markets, suspended all flights to Sharm El-Sheikh in the wake of the plane crash.

In an interview with The Telegraph on Thursday, Zahi Hawass, a former minister for antiquities and a famed Egyptologist, said he hoped the new airport exhibition would attract much-needed funding to pay for the maintenance of Egypt’s heritage sites.

“The museum will be an opportunity for transit passengers to get an idea about Egypt’s civilization”, he said. “Egypt’s antiquities are in danger because of a lack of tourism. The maintenance of these sites depends on tourist revenue”.

Cairo airport hosted a similar museum back in 1984, but it was closed a few years later during renovations.

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Thomson Reuters, ICD launch Islamic Finance Development Indicator

Saturday 05 Dec 2015 – Manama (IINA) – Thomson Reuters, the world’s leading provider of intelligent information for businesses and professionals, and Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector (ICD), the private sector development arm of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), Thursday released the key findings of the Islamic Finance Development Indicator (IFDI) Report 2015.

The report was launched at the World Islamic Banking conference (WIBC) held in Bahrain. The report, which was released for the third consecutive year, examines the key statistics and trends across five indicators that are deemed to be significant for measuring the development of the $1.8 trillion Islamic finance industry. These include Quantitative Development, Knowledge, Governance, Corporate Social Responsibility and Awareness. These indicators are tracked across 108 countries, which had contributions in all or some of these indicators. According to the report, Malaysia leads IFDI again while GCC countries continue to dominate the top of the rankings for a third year in a row.

Among the GCC countries, Bahrain maintained its second position globally, while UAE switched positions with Oman to come third, with the latter dropping to fourth. Saudi Arabia, which is the world’s second biggest jurisdiction in terms of Islamic finance assets, jumped to sixth from ninth overall, largely due to improvement in its CSR activities. Pakistan, Jordan, Hong Kong, India, Botswana and Ivory Coast are some of the countries that have demonstrated positive movements in the IFDI 2015 ranking.

Khaled Al Aboodi, CEO of ICD said: “As the leading Islamic finance institution supporting private sector development across the Islamic world, we recognize that the industry requires effective holistic measures to focus our efforts to facilitate and ensure inclusive financial sector development. The ICD-Thomson Reuters Islamic Finance Development Indicator (IFDI) is one of our key initiatives to assess the current states of the overall health of the Islamic finance industry and measure growth potential for each country.

The indicator is the leading global reference for Islamic finance development for all users including Policy Makers & Regulators, Investors & Financial institutions, Shariah scholars, research and training departments interested in Islamic Finance.” In 2014, global Islamic finance assets climbed to $1.814 trillion, representing a 9.4 percent rise from $1.66 trillion in 2013. This increase was driven by strong growth in all sectors — Islamic banking, takaful, sukuk and Islamic funds. The value of assets in the Islamic finance sector is expected to increase by 10 percent per annum over the next five years, reaching $3.24 trillion by 2020.

“The Islamic finance industry has demonstrated tremendous growth over the last few year.we have seen the industry develop a conducive eco-system that made it possible for many countries to enter this space. Currently, there are more than 1,000 Islamic financial institutions most of which are located in the GCC and Southeast Asiaad we expect this number to increase significantly in the next decade,” said Nadim Najjar, managing director, Middle East & North Africa, Thomson Reuters.

The number of Islamic finance degrees and courses as well as research papers increased in 2014, with 2013 leaders Malaysia, Bahrain, and Jordan retaining their leadership positions on the Knowledge Indicator for 2014. Three hundred and seventy-eight institutions offered Islamic finance education in 2014. Malaysia and UK co-lead 36 countries that offer Islamic finance degrees, with 141 institutions offering Islamic finance courses.

On the Research sub-indicator, there were 1,490 Islamic finance research papers published in the past 3 years (2012-2014). There is a substantial gap between Malaysia’s research output and that of the other countries. Bahrain and Malaysia maintained their respective 1st and 2nd positions on the overall Governance indicator, which considers three factors: Regulations, Corporate Governance, and Shariah Governance. There remains a huge gap between the two leaders and the rest of the countries. Bahrain, Malaysia, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Indonesia are the jurisdictions with the most complete set of Islamic finance regulations. These are the jurisdictions providing best practice models for Islamic finance governance, and which are considered as models by new markets such as France, Germany, Ghana, and Russia.

In 2014, there were 953 Shariah scholars practicing in the global Islamic finance industry. 75 percent of the 953 scholars practice primarily in the top 10 countries of the IFDI. On Corporate Governance, Oman, Maldives and Kuwait are the strongest, with South Africa and Malaysia not far behind by the number of corporate governance items disclosed and the composition of Board, and Risk Management and Audit committees. There is a serious lack of disclosure of CSR activities and funds disbursed. Only 25 out of 108 countries that make up the IFDI universe contributed to the CSR indicator. Of the 25 countries that had any CSR Disclosure, not all institutions disclosed the amount of zakat, charity or Gard Al Hasan funds. As per available data, total CSR funds disbursed in 2014 amounts to $526 million, which we know is significantly lower than the actual funds disbursed.

Palestine was the only jurisdiction whose financial institutions all disclosed CSR activities and funds disbursed. Saudi Arabia disbursed the most CSR funds (driven by mandatory zakat payments), resulting in its leadership on the CSR Funds sub-indicator. There is a very big gap between Saudi Arabia and 2nd placed Jordan. All other GCC states are in the top ten save Qatar, which was in 14th place. Malaysia rose to lead the Awareness indicator while Oman dropped to 4th from 1st in 2013. Likewise, Bahrain and UAE each moved up a notch to 2nd and 3rd respectively, while Pakistan over performed, particularly in seminars compared to last year. By regions, the GCC made the most headlines, but Southeast Asia and Europe hosted more Islamic finance-related events.

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Haramain Railway Station in Jeddah nears completion

Monday 07 Dec 2015 – Jeddah, (IINA) – Saudi Railways Organization’s CEO Mohammad Al-Suwaikit said that the arrival and departure lounges at the Jeddah station for the Haramain High-Speed Rail have been completed, Saudi Gazette reported.

“The second phase of the project will be complete by the end of 2016. We have so far built the arrival and departure lounges and the shopping area which has famous international brands”, said Al-Suwaikit.

“The station will have around 70 escalators, each 23 meters long. The escalators will be the longest in the Middle East. The station will also be fully equipped with all required services. The Civil Defense will have an office at the station, and there will be a parking lot with a capacity for 6,000 vehicles”, said Al-Suwaikit.

He noted that there is a VIP lounge for first class passengers and that the station will also have parking spots for buses and taxis.

“The municipality is also working on constructing a promenade for pedestrians. The total area of the station is 461,000 sq. meters. The station is also fully equipped with surveillance cameras and plasma screens”.

“We have also allocated a budget for the design and aesthetic appeal of the station. The station will have chandeliers reflecting the theme of the station and matching the design of the trains, offices and stores”, he added.

He also said the site was designed to be as eco-friendly as possible by using eco-friendly materials. The station will have a glass ceiling to allow the sunlight to illuminate it during the day. It is noteworthy that there are five stations planned for the Haramain train, Al-Madinah at the north end of the line, King Abdullah Economic City in Rabigh, King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, Jeddah city center, and Makkah in the south.

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Uganda plans to restore 2.5 million hectares of deforested land

Tuesday 08 Dec 2015 – Paris (IINA) – The Government of Uganda has promised to restore up to 2.5 million hectares of degraded and deforested landscapes by 2030, Uganda’s New Vision reported.

This is part of the 100 million hectares of degraded and deforested landscapes in Africa that some countries have pledged to restore by 2030 under the project dubbed AFR100 (African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative).

The African countries launched AFR100, a pan-African, country-led effort during the Global Landscapes Forum at the ongoing Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris. The initiative has been endorsed by the African Union.

So far 10 African countries including Uganda have agreed to join AFR100 and committed at least 31.7 million hectares of land for forest landscape restoration.

AFR100 partners are earmarking more than $1 billion in development finance and more than $540 million in private sector impact investment to support restoration activities.

In the last 15 years, Uganda’s forest cover reduced by approximately 1.3 million hectares according to the country’s National Forest Plan 2011/12–2021/22. The AFR100 initiative is expected to have such degraded and deforested landscapes restored.

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Morocco seeks to attract 100,000 Russian tourists in 2016

Tuesday 08 Dec 2015 – Rabat, (IINA) – Morocco is seeking to attract over 100,000 tourists from Russia next year, Moroccan media reported.

A large delegation of Moroccan tourism industry representatives has arrived in Moscow on Monday, in a three-day working visit to encourage tourism between the two countries.

A report by medias24 said the Moroccan delegation is seeking through this visit to boost Morocco’s presence in the Russian market with the aim to attract 100,000 Russian tourists in 2016.

Speaking to Morocco World News before flying to Moscow, Head of Moroccan Federation of Hotel Industry Lahcen Zelmet said: “Morocco is seeking to conclude new agreements with Russian tour operators to promote Morocco as an alternative for banned destinations to Russian tourists.”

“If we can convince Russian tour operators to cooperate with us, Morocco could become the main destination for Russian tourists in 2016,” Lahcen said.

In 2014, 36,000 Russian tourists visited Morocco, a 22 percent decrease in comparison to the previous year.

Lahcen says that this decrease was mainly due to the Ministry of Tourism’s lack of promotional advertising in the Russian Federation.

Morocco seeks to attract 800,000 Russian tourists by the 2020. Russia suspended flights to Egypt following the Russian plane crash in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. More recently, Moscow banned travel to Turkey after Turkish military downed a Russian warplane.

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$55 million allocated to help the disabled in Saudi Arabia

Riyadh, (IINA) – Chairman of the Disabled Children’s Association (DCA) Prince Sultan bin Salman announced that the association allocated around $55 million for the rehabilitation of disabled children, Arab News reported.

Showcasing the salient features of the 2016 budget during a board meeting in Riyadh, he said that $32 million will be spent on the DCA’s operations while the remaining $22 million will cover social welfare services, road works and related projects during the year.

According to him, the budget is the biggest in DCA’s history since its inception 30 years ago, pointing out that It came in line with DCA’s expansion program across the Kingdom for dealing with the increasing number of children covered by its services.

He said the organization has started implementing a number of charity projects. The operational budget includes 10 DCA projects to be taken up in the first phase in Makkah with one building named after Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman.

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Tunisia: Jordan Welcomes Visa-Free Access Decision

8 December 2015 – Tunis Afrique Presse – Amman — Jordan Monday welcomed Tunisia’s decision to grant visa-free access to its nationals.

The Jordanian delegation said, at the 8th High Joint Committee meeting, legal and judicial co-operation needs to be reinforced. It invited, in this connection, the Tunisian side to designate experts in the Joint Technical Committee to follow up the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2009 between the justice institutes in the two countries.

The High Joint Committee also set a meeting schedule for Tunisian-Jordanian co-operation mechanisms.

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Algeria: 7th Festival of Contemporary Art Opens in Algiers

11 December 2015 – Algerie Presse Service (Algiers) — The materialization of suffering and memory through painting or sculpture has been at the heart of the exhibition entitled “Parenthesis” constituting the 7th International Festival of Contemporary Art (FIAC) opened Thursday in Algiers.

16 artists from nine different countries will participate in this festival to be opened to the public as from Friday at the Museum of Modern Art in Algiers (Mama). Artists’ works have been carried out during a residency organized last November .

With canvas and black wire, Congolese artist Gastineau Massamba Mbongo materializes dotted reality of conflicts in the African continent motivated by competition for resources in a work titled “Diamonds, uranium and Central Africa” also showing the drama of child soldiers.

His compatriot, sculptor and painter, Paul Alden, nicknamed, Mvoutoukoulou M’vout tried to materialize time and memory through three paintings, entitled “In Memory”, representing the passage of time.

One work of “M’vout” represents March 19, 1962, the date of signing of the cease fire marked the end of French colonialism in Algeria as a tipping point in the history of the country.

Made in Algiers during an artist residency, three paintings by Greek artist Loannis Stefanakis are dedicated to the city of Algiers and architecture of the Casbah.

The exhibition occupies two of the three levels of the museum also features paintings by Noreddine Benhamed that divert road signs and Ould Mohand Slimane, paying a tribute from paint singer Slimane Azem.

The works carried out on the occasion of this festival could be given to the museum or listed by the authors according to the will of each artist, organizers said.

Present at the opening, Minister of Culture Azzedine Mihoubi praised the “originality” of the exhibited works, stating that the creation of an art market in Algeria is “still under consideration” in his department.

Inaugurated Thursday, 7th FIAC exhibition runs until 11 February 2016 at the Mama museum.

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Nigeria Tourism Park to Boost Economy

5 December 2015 – The Guardian (Lagos) – A tourism expert, Professor Lade Adeyemi, has disclosed that earnings from theme parks would add substantially to Internal Generated Revenues (IGR) and further boost the economy. This, according to him, will lead to a healthy nation that will rub off on national productivity.

He said the parks will also enable families to create more time for entertainment to develop bond and reduce stress.

Adeyemi who spoke ahead of the take-off of Lekki Dinosaur Park in Lagos, said the park would commence operations in the next 18-24 months. “The park will be the first Dinosaur Animatronics Park in the West African sub-region that will usher Nigeria into the burgeoning global theme park market. This project aims at giving Nigerians, especially Lagosians, quality entertainment as well as boast Nigerians’ family livelihood which is presently lacking.”

On the make-up of the park, he said: “It will have over 40 animatronics dinosaurs created from the same makers of the dinosaurs seen at the Jurrasic Park movie.

The park, powered by Crownsworth Nubian Company, would be handled by engineers and consultants from the United States, Greece, China and Nigeria. When completed, the project will be residential with families free to enjoy the natural ambience and special effects in the park, he said.

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Nigeria: Med-View Airline Acquires New Aircraft

8 December 2015 – Daily Trust – Lagos — Barely 17 days after it commenced direct flight operations from Lagos to the London Gatwick airport, Med-View Airline on Monday took delivery of a new aircraft Boeing 737-800.

The new aircraft, which was unveiled to the media at the airline’s office at the Muritala Muhammed Airport MMA2, arrived from Slovakia.

Managing Director of the airline, Alhaji Muneer Bankole, announced that the airline is set to commence another international flight out of the country to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

He said that the new aircraft, which increased the airline’s fleet to five, would enable the airline to commence two weekly flights from Lagos-Kano to Jeddah, with plans to increase the frequencies to four in the coming months.

Bankole disclosed that the aircraft was leased from Air Explore in Slovakia and would start being used for the Jeddah route from December 31, 2015.

The aircraft, with registration number OM-GEX, is configured for 176 passengers. Apart from the Jeddah route, the aircraft would immediately commence flight operations on the Yola route, which had since increased from one daily to twice daily. In the next couple of weeks, Med-View also plans to expand its Port Harcourt operations to two from the existing one daily.

Bankole further said the airline has been designated to fly 17 international and regional routes, including seven in Africa.

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Trade, Tourism Boost Aviation Between Uganda, South Africa

10 December 2015 – The Monitor – Kampala — Uganda’s trade and tourism ties with South Africa have been the largest contributors to the 15-year stay of South African Airways (SAA) in Uganda.

According to SAA, the growing business and tourism interests between the two countries have seen demand for air travel services rise.

At a dinner marking their 15-year existence in the Ugandan market on Tuesday, SAA Uganda country manager Yogi Biriggwa said they control the largest market share on the Uganda – South African route, partly as a result of tourism and trade ties.

“We are pleased to contribute to the growth in bilateral trade and tourism between Uganda and the 56 destinations we serve, especially South Africa,” Ms Birigwa said.

Trade statistics from Bank of Uganda indicate that trade between South Africa and Uganda as of 2014 was valued at $253m (Shs836b), up from $233m (Shs770b) in 2013. The trade, however, remains largely one sided as Uganda imported goods worth $244m (Shs806b) in 2014 up from $226m (Shs747b) in 2013.

However, Uganda only exported goods worth $9m (Shs30b) in 2014, up from $7.3m (Shs24b) in 2013.

Uganda remains a net importer from South Africa as the presence of companies from that country has been growing stronger. Apples, oranges, wines, spirits, electronics, construction equipment and labour are some of the imports into Uganda.

Shoprite, Game and Eskom among others, are net importers of South African products. MTN Uganda and Stanbic Bank Uganda are both South African-owned businesses, which dominate Uganda’s banking and telecom sectors. “South Africa is one of the fastest growing sources of direct foreign investment for Uganda. From telecom, entertainment, finance, infrastructure, insurance and industry,” Ms Biriggwa said in a separate interview with Daily Monitor.

According to The Uganda Association of Travel Agents chairperson Pearl Hoarea, South Africa, as a tourist destination has so much to offer, from the winelands to the heritage, tourism and Nelson Mandela as an icon.”

The Uganda Association of Travel Agents raised concern about South Africa’s Visa rules that had placed several restrictions on entry into South Africa. The new rules affect travellers to South Africa.

However, the South African High Commission had earlier announced that frequent travellers to South Africa would get multiple visa entries of up to three years.

There were also concerns around the transit visa that Ugandans are expected to pay if they want to visit South Africa’s neighbouring countries.

“As I conclude, I request that you do away with the transit visas in order to allow more connections for passengers from Uganda,” said Works and Transport minister John Byabagambi.

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Nigeria Hotel Group to Invest N4 Billion in Ogun

12 December 2015 – Daily Independent (Lagos) – Radisson Hotels, a member of Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, will invest N4b to redefine tourism and hospitality business in Ogun state.

This move, according to the hotel group will be actualized through the re-inventing of the defunct state owned Gateway Hotel to Park Inn Hotels and Suites located in Abeokuta, the State capital.

The management of the US-brand hotels also disclosed that Park Inn Hotels Abeokuta by Radisson came to being under a concession agreement, having observed the growing economic status of the state, especially in tourism and hospitality sector.

According to Marc Descrozaille, Vice President of Sub-Saharan Africa, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, the location of Park Inn by Radisson to Abeokuta, after Radisson Blu Anchorage Hotel in Victoria Island, Lagos state, was borne out of Radisson’s strategies to expand its business in Africa, coupled with the growing status of the state’s economy.

“This is the latest in a series of important hotel openings for us in Africa and we are delighted to welcome the first Park Inn by Radisson in Abeokuta, further strengthening our leading position in Africa. The growth of Ogun state’s economy has led to increased demand for hotels, and Abeokuta’s strategic location means that it has developed as a key business and leisure destination.” He explained.

Speaking at a media chart held in Abeokuta on Friday, Kayode Aina, the General Manager, Park Inn by Radisson, disclosed that the hotel was located in Abeokuta not only for the leisure of tourists from far and near, but to also to domesticate “first and only internationally-branded hotel in Ogun state, which means that the state is moving on economically.”

While declaring that the hotel is still test-running ahead of grand opening in January 2016, Aina noted that Park Inn has employed 102 Nigerians as members of staff and spent about N300,000 daily to procure agricultural produce and food stuffs to feed and entertain its guests, adding that the brand would go extra miles to satisfy its guests and visitors.

He said the five-star hotel which has a total of 173 rooms with free wireless high-speed internet facility, world standard bar and grill, swimming pool, restaurant, gym, indoor games, will also feature amusement park and other recreational facilities for children’s delight as well as discerning adults as the business grows.

He added that every guest of Park Inn would be entitled to Club Carlson Membership which offers global discounts for every money spent at all 1,370 hotels owned and controlled by Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group Worldwide, saying “you as our guest, whatever we need to make your stay pleasurable and delightful, will be our core services.”

He however, requested government at all levels to help grow tourism and hospitality sector of Nigerian economy through the provision of enabling policies and infrastructure that would make the sector competitive and vibrant, adding that about 25-30 percent of daily expenses goes to independent power generation since the power distribution from national grid is poorly low.

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Egypts Mull Initiative to Promote Domestic Tourism

12 December 2015 – Egypt State Information Service (Cairo) – Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou held a meeting Thursday 10/12/2015 with Bishop Paul of Tanta to discuss a new initiative to promote domestic tourism, launched by Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria and Patriarch of St. Mark Diocese.

Under the slogan “my country is great”, the new initiative was launched by the pope in support of the tourism industry that was hit in the wake of a Russian plane crash in Sinai on October 31.

The meeting was fruitful and new ideas were suggested to encourage Egyptian Copts living abroad to visit tourist attractions in Egypt, Spokesperson of the Coptic Orthodox Church Father Boules Halim said.

Earlier, Pope Tawadros II met Bishop Paul of Tanta to discuss means to make Egypt on top of Copts’ tourism destinations.

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Mozambique Sets Up Spatial Development Programme

2 December 2015 – Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique (Maputo) — The CTA reports that the government of Mozambique, benefiting from funds provided by cooperation partners, has set up a Spatial Development Programme (PDE), based in the Ministry of Transport and Communications, whose main objective is to develop the necessary analytical skills and develop spatial economic analyses as a way to galvanize the needs of the main economic sectors of the country, as well as to identify and prepare the main interventions that will help priority sectors unlock their economic potential.

To operationalize the PDE, a methodology of spatial development initiative has been adopted that aims to promote investment in less-developed regions of the country that have growth potential.

In order to improve the promotion capacity of the initiative, the Ministry of Transport and Communications is organizing a conference for investors in the Nacala Development Corridor (CdN) to be held in the Nacala International Airport on Dec. 16.

The conference aims to promote among potential investors a portfolio of anchor projects identified in the CdN. An exhibition of companies and producers of goods already installed in the Mozambican market and the potential for their expansion will be held in parallel.

The event will also be an opportunity to discuss various issues related to the economic and fiscal environment in Mozambique and interact with more than 300 business and social stakeholders.

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OIC holds forum on unifying halal standards and procedures

Thursday 10 Dec 2015 – Jeddah (IINA) – A forum on unifying halal standards and procedures kicked off here on Wednesday at the General Secretariat of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), with participation of several governmental and non-governmental experts, private sector representatives and relevant OIC institutions.

The two-day event, titled “OIC Stakeholders Forum on Unified Halal Food Standards and Procedures”, is being held to provide stakeholders in the domain of halal standards, accreditation and certification as well as various OIC institutions an opportunity to work together, suggest widely acceptable standards of halal, reconcile practices and variations within member states, increase intra-OIC trade and promote capacity building.

OIC Secretary General Iyad Ameen Madani welcomed the participants and stressed that halal is a major global industry that is not only confined to food but also includes other products such as pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

In its final day, the forum will culminate in a series of recommendations to be submitted to the Council of Foreign Ministers next year.

Bangladeshi Minister for Religious Affairs Matior Rahman, who also spoke at the opening, said that the demand for halal is on the increase, stressing that the forum is an opportunity for Muslim countries to develop unified standards and procedures.

The global halal market is estimated at $2.3 trillion, with 67 percent of this market, amounting to $1.4 trillion, consisting of food and beverages. Pharmaceutical products make up 22 percent or $506 billion, while cosmetics and personal care products are estimated at $230 billion.

“The two buildings will cost up to $37 million, in addition to the costs of construction work of DCA branch in Jazan”, Prince Sultan said.

He also declared that the DCA’s ambitious plans reflect the growing confidence of the community in its mission and the governing council’s desire to meet the needs of all regions and securing the sustainability of these services and the development level.

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